Review – Disney sequel ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ is full of fun, but lacking in soul

Poster for 2018 animated sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet

Genre: Comedy
Certificate: PG
UK Release Date: 30th November 2018
Runtime: 112 minutes
Director: Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
Writer: Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon
Starring: John C Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P Henson, Bill Hader, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina
Synopsis: Ralph and Vanellope must travel into the internet in order to track down a replacement accessory that could save her arcade game from being switched off forever.

 

 

It’s now pretty widely accepted that Disney Animation Studios is in the midst of one of its hottest streaks of quality, as part of its parent company’s near-total domination of the Hollywood landscape. That was less clear, however, when Wreck-it Ralph hit UK cinemas in 2013. With its enjoyable mix of heartfelt comedy and affection for retro video games, the film was an instant success and has now spawned its inevitable sequel. It’s an enjoyable follow-up that features many of the same components as the first movie, but it just feels a little bit dead behind the eyes.

Perhaps that issue lies with the plot, which is basically The Emoji Movie if it were created by people capable of writing jokes and a coherent story. Ralph (John C Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) see their equilibirum disrupted when a mishap leads to a broken steering wheel on Vanellope’s game. The only spare part available is very expensive online, so the decision is taken to unplug the game, leaving Vanellope homeless. Racked with guilt over his part in the game’s demise, Ralph decides the duo must journey through the arcade’s Wi-Fi into the internet in order to get hold of the part themselves.

In delving into the internet, Ralph and Vanellope of course happen upon various recognisable brands. The depiction of Twitter as a forest full of birds singing to each other is intriguing, if a little utopian, and there are some other nice touches, from spiv-like pop-ups to the video sharing app Buzzztube, presided over by Taraji P Henson as an arbiter of taste when it comes to virality. The most ballyhooed element, though, is Vanellope’s visit to the Oh My Disney site, where she bumps into Marvel characters and Star Wars references aplenty, as Disney flexes its impressive catalogue of IP. Also, as anyone who has seen the trailer will know, Vanellope bumps into the Disney princesses. It’s the princess scenes that are the highlights of the movie, packed with self-aware jabs at the shortcomings of these films, albeit jabs that were largely spoiled in the rather over-enthusiastic marketing.

When this brand of comedy lands, which it frequently does, Ralph Breaks the Internet is a delight to watch. And these characters are likeable enough that we enjoy spending time with them. However, the emotion has been surgically removed and replaced with a sort of soulless, corporate feel that makes those Emoji Movie comparisons even more pointed. It’s not quite at the level of that film’s Dropbox tie-in, but this isn’t a million miles away from that. Sweetness has been replaced by synergy.

Part of the problem is that the film still feels the need to focus on Ralph, when the most interesting story is that of Vanellope. We meet her in something of a funk, having completely conquered her own game and on the lookout for something edgier and more exciting. She seems to find that in a violent online racing game called Slaughter Race, fronted by Gal Gadot‘s effortlessly cool racer Shank. Vanellope’s turmoil about where she belongs should be the movie’s central thread, but Disney are too wedded to the idea of making the sequel about Ralph and, as a result, he comes to overshadow the story’s best elements – quite literally in the case of the finale.

But none of that prevents Ralph Breaks the Internet from being a worthwhile follow-up to its predecessor. Much like many of Pixar’s recent sequels and prequels, this has enough of the spirit of what came before to emerge as an amiable and colourful movie, albeit one that lacks the same immediately impressive heart that made the first film such a pleasant surprise. Ultimately, this film doesn’t necessarily have the shine to break the internet, but it’d get a decent haul of likes on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Fans of Wreck-it Ralph are unlikely to be disappointed by Ralph Breaks the Internet, which is a witty and enjoyable follow-up that takes that movie’s characters into a whole new world. However, in their rush to promote their own pop cultural hegemony, Disney has taken away one of the key elements that made the first Ralph movie an instant family classic – its heart.

Self-referential gags about princesses are fun, but the sidelining of Vanellope – the film’s clear protagonist – suggests they’re more willing to talk the talk than walk the walk.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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